You might have heard that Bulgaria was once a socialist country, and a part of the Cold War Eastern Bloc. Part of the heritage from that period that foreigners seem to find most fascinating are the communist-era monuments. Here, you are in luck, since Bulgaria is one of the few countries where this cultural heritage is still well materialized by many typical artifacts from that period.
The monumental architecture of the 1970’s and 1980’s is a result of a massive cultural policy of the state during the socialist period. Typically, monumental art from the last decades of the 20th century resulted in landmarks that illustrate historical events, using specific historical images.
So, if you are a fan of brutalist art or are in search of unique Instagram opportunities, here’s a list of Bulgaria’s most legendary and impressive communist monuments:
There is an incredible amount of communist monuments still preserved in Bulgaria. However, this is by far the most famous one. Often called simply “the Saucer” or “the UFO”, the construction of the monument (1974-1981) was a citizen-funded tribute to the socialist movement in Bulgaria. You will find it at an altitude of 1,441 m on the Buzludzha Peak in the Central Balkan Mountains near the town of Kazanlak. The location is not arbitrary – this is where the first congress of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Worker’s Party (a precursor to the Communist Party) was held in 1891.
The memorial home consists of a domed hall and a 70-meter-high tower, adorned with two 12-meter red stars. The solemn hall has a diameter of 42 m and a height of 14.5 m. Inside, there are mosaic portraits of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Dimitar Blagoev, the founder and first leader of the BSDWP, and of course, the longest-serving leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party – Todor Zhivkov. It covers a total area of 550 m².
After the collapse of the communist regime the monument was abandoned and gradually fell into disrepair. It became a favorite spot for graffiti artists and adventurous tourists. However, the gradual decay of the building caused elements of its interior to start falling apart. Therefore, the monument was classified as a potential life hazard and access to it was officially banned. However, a trip to Buzludzha is still well worth it if you want to have a deeper countryside experience and enjoy the impressive monument from the outside as well as the surrounding mountain scenery. There are plenty of options for an organized trip to Buzludzha with a tour guide.
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The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party was built by the Bulgarian communist regime in 1981. It commemorates the events of 1891, when a group of socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev assembled secretly in the area to form an organised socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Communist Party. #communism #abandonedplaces #abandoned #abandonedbuilding #abandonedearth #mountains #history #Bulgaria #getlost #explorer #optoutside #worldshotz #theworldshotz #createexplore #exploretocreate #discoverearth #travelphoto #travelworld #keepexploring #globe_travel #places_wow
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This one was built between 1977 and 1981 as part of the preparations to mark the 1,300th anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgaria at an elevation of 450 m above sea level on a hill near the town of Shumen, which nowadays is the largest city in the vicinity of the early medieval Bulgarian capitals – Pliska and Preslav. The architectural part of the monument consists of two groups of concrete forms, constructed at different angles and forming enclosures. The sculptural compositions introduce key events and people from Bulgarian history between the 7th and 10th centuries, including:
Part of the complex are also three massive mosaics incorporating elements of the Cyrillic alphabet and its predecessor, the Glagolitic script. On top of the monument there is an imposing granite lion weighing 1000 tons. In order to visit the monument, you will have to go by car to the city of Shumen and then follow a a 5-km-long road in a hilly terrain; alternatively, you could check your physical shape by climbing a 1476-step staircase starting in downtown Shumen.
This monument (1977) commemorates a century-old battle that cost thousands of lives and nearly destroyed the city of Stara Zagora. The fighting took place in July and August 1877 as part of the Russo-Ottoman war which resulted in the re-establishment of the Bulgarian state after almost five centuries of Ottoman rule. The main part of the monument is a 50-meter-high concrete structure symbolizing the Samara flag with St. George’s Cross. It also includes sculptural compositions of Bulgarian volunteer fighters and a crypt with the remains of the dead soldiers who participated in the battle. Next to the monument you’ll find concrete structures representing six Bulgarian warriors and a Russian officer. You can reach the monument via a one hundred step staircase. The location coincides with the command post of the officers who led the battles around Stara Zagora.
Of course, we cannot skip Bulgaria’s largest Black Sea port, Varna, which boasts its famous Bulgarian-Soviet comradeship monument. Dating to 1978, you will find it atop a hill at the outskirts of he city. Construction started at the end of 1974. Over the next year more than 27,000 citizens of Varna were asked to volunteer help. The monument consists of two massive concrete wings with 11.5 m high figures on each of them. Three female figures occupy the left wing, while on the other wing there are four Soviet soldiers. Beneath the visible part of the monument there is an impressive bomb shelter. It consists of several layers of tunnels and halls. Still up for climbing stairs? Well, this one will cost you 301 steps to reach the monument.
You will find this monument in the outskirts of Sofia at the foot of the Vitosha mountain. It includes four 37-meter-high pylons and two horizontal semi circles showcasing over a hundred bells from all over the world. In 1979 Sofia hosted an event called Banner of Peace Assembly. It was one of the activities under the International Year of the Child as declared by the United Nations. The main construction of the monument was completed in just 30 days. In August 1979 The International Park of the Children of the World welcomed participants from all around the globe.
The goal of the Assembly was to demonstrate cooperation and friendship between nations. It turned into a regular event which was organized once every three years until 1989 when the communist regime fell. If you visit the complex today, you will still be able to see most of the bells donated by the different countries that took part in the Banner of Peace Assembly and even ring them:
Now this one is a good example of how translation is not an exact science. Google Brotherly Mound, Fraternal Barrow, or even Hillock of Fraternity, and you will still get to this: a monument located in Bulgaria’s second largest city and dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, the Unification of Bulgaria and all warriors who fought and died during the Balkan wars, and the First and Second World Wars. The monument is designed to resemble a Thracian burial mound, since the region around Plovdiv is known as the Thracian valley. This one was officially unveiled on September 9, 1974, to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the communist regime in Bulgaria.
Most people call it “Alyosha” – a common nickname of an unknown Soviet soldier from World War II. The 11-meter-high granite sculpture (1954 and 1957) honors the victory of the Red army in World War II. It also highlight its support of the establishment of the communist regime in Bulgaria. Thus, in the foundation of the statue there is an engraved star and inscription reading “Glory to the Invincible Soviet Liberator Army.” Alyosha is located, guess where, on the top of one of Plovdiv’s hills – Bunardzhika (the hill of the spring, later renamed Liberators’ hill). Climbing to the monument (yes, stairs are involved) provides a great opportunity for physical activity combined with nice views of the beautiful central district of the city.
And, last but not least, one with no hills and (almost) no stairs involved! When we talk about communist monuments, there is no way we can skip Sofia’s most famous one. You will find it in the downtown area of the Bulgarian capital, in the Knyazheska Garden. The Monument of the Soviet Army (1954) celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Bulgarian coup d’état. Also marking the role of the Red army in the victory over the Nazis. Later, during the Communist era this was known as the Socialist Revolution. The complex consists of different monuments and groups of sculptures. The main one is 37 meters high and depicts a triumphant Soviet soldier raising a submachine gun in his hand and surrounded by a Bulgarian woman holding her baby and a Bulgarian worker.
Due to its location, after the fall of the communist regime the monument became a popular hang-out place for the young people of Sofia. Of course, they brought with them their bikes, their skateboards, their guitars, their boomboxes and, of course, their graffiti sprays. Probably the most famous piece of street art that the monument was subjected to came in 2011. It’s when the Soviet soldiers, depicted on one of the side compositions, were painted to look like American comic book heroes and capitalist heroes. There were Captain America, Wonder Woman and the Joker, but also Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald.
Want to learn more about Bulgaria’s communist past? Make sure to join our Sofia Communist Tour.
Travelling around Bulgaria will surprise with countless other signs of Bulgaria’s communist cultural heritage.
Author: Free Sofia Tour Guide – Stoyan Bonev